Featured Book Talk: "The 1936 Berlin Olympics: Race, Power, and Sportswashing"

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Jules Boykoff, Professor; Politics & Government Department Chair, Pacific University, Oregon, United States


The 1936 Berlin Olympics: Race, Power, and Sportswashing

When Adolf Hitler hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, he used the Games to rally political support in Germany and abroad for his white supremacist worldview. In doing so, Hitler not only ruptured the myth that politics and sports do not mix, but he also initiated the first major instance of sportswashing: hosting a sports mega-event to launder one’s stained reputation on the world stage. The 1936 Berlin Olympics: Race, Power, and Sportswashing situates these controversial Games in the longer political history of the Olympics and examines the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to the International Olympic Committee handing these Games to Germany in the first place. In the United States, the Berlin Olympics catalyzed a raucous, if ultimately unsuccessful, boycott campaign that raised serious concerns about racialized repression in the host country. The Berlin Games furnished a high-profile testing ground for racial theories rooted in white supremacy—the marrow in the Nazis’ ideological bones—where Black athletes like Jesse Owens thrived. The Games also brought innovations—like the Olympic Torch Relay—that were subsequently woven into Olympic tradition. Sportswashing is a significant concern in modern-day sports studies; this book demonstrates how the Olympic Games have long been both a potential pedestal for autocrats to boost their unsavory regimes and a flashpoint for human-rights criticism. Although history does not gift the present moment with crisp facsimiles from the past, thinking through history illuminates patterns and possibilities that can help make sense of the whirling swirl of today.

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